Having visions of visiting Venice, the question remained, “Where else do we go?” An excursion through the Adriatic which connects northern Italy with the Balkan countries of Slovenia and Croatia seemed like the ideal destination.
After a flight to Milan/Bergamo and an hour’s drive east, we spent our first night in Verona. Is it stereotypical that our first Italian meal was pizza? Even so, it was a delightful initiation at Pizzeria Ristorante Olimpia. @pizzeriaristoranteolimpiaverona
An hour and a half’s drive later and we arrived in Venice. Luckily, our rental house offered us private parking in a garage on Tronchetto Island. Now, unencumbered by a car, we prepared to explore the canals.
Suitcases in tow on the vaporetto ride from Tronchetto to Giardini stop
Venice is one of those places where you can have an extraordinary experience or one overwhelmed by crowds and commercialism. To avoid the latter, the best suggestion is to plan your active times for early morning and after 4pm. At these times, the cruise ship inundation can be avoided and the city is actually as peaceful and romantic as it should be. This is particularly true for gondola rides. We saw bumper to bumper gondolas during the day. But, when we took ours just before 7pm, and the change to the higher nighttime rates, there was not another gondola in sight. This truly made the ride mesmerizing and memorable.
Early morning walks let you appreciate how this city functions. It’s all about moving things in and out.
We chose to stay a bit of a walk out of the city center. Via Garibaldi in the Castello District is an island of tranquility and authenticity. So glad that we centered our homebase in this area!
To continue the adventure, we next visited Trieste, one of Italy’s eastern-most cities. Here, we enjoyed the combined Italian and Greek hospitalities of two charming restaurateurs. While deciding which terrace to choose, these owners invited us to enjoy both restaurants, Taverna Sapori Greci @tavernasaporigreci and Sorsi & Morsi, simultaneously.
A quick jaunt south took us to Slovenia’s only coastal area and a charming village surrounded by blue Adriatic Sea. Piran is about being in the moment to enjoy its vibrant colors, ocean breeze, and slow pace. (To get into the zen-zone, use a garage just outside of the village and the free bus to the plaza!!)
After this busy day of exploration, our first Croatian home welcomed us with fresh made raspberry bread. Our stay at Holiday Home Ivana (found through Airbnb.com) was unfortunately shortened by impending rain, but we loved being surrounded by all of the homey details provided by Ivana at her spacious, clean and cute vacation house. Next time we hope to enjoy the hot tub and fabulous vistas!
With rain a day away, we drove the next morning to arrive in time for a quick lunch and nap before heading to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. The beauty and awe inspired by this park cannot be captured in pictures. It is an odyssey to walk up the boardwalks to be met at each level with a new set of stunning green-blue lakes and cascading waterfalls. As in Venice, we found that going later in the day (around 3pm) allowed us to avoid the crowds. So, while not alone, we were also not crowded or uncomfortable.
The next morning, a drive north led us to the city of Zagreb where they’ve achieved a pleasurable balance of old world with the new. (Pleasurable, at least, after the hour-plus wait to pay toll.) Here, we spent two days and nights surrounded by the historic city center but were taken by surprise at various turns with encounters such as WWII bomb shelters turned into artsy tunnels, the enormous central food market, the intensity of the Museum of Broken Relationships, and the bluesy-retro concert, nighttime city view and convivial ambiance that we enjoyed at StrossMartre. As David kept saying… “This is such a COOL place!”
A two-hour drive west took us to the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, which we passed to drive another 45 minutes to visit Lake Bled for the day. Although cloudy and threatening rain, the water remained a striking blue color. The trip in a traditional boat to the island was enjoyable and felt like a “must-do” although there was not a lot to see once there. Overall, the area felt very touristy with minimal parking. We’re not sure what people find to do there for several days as it’s not a place of relaxation. For us at least, it’s a site to visit once to soak in its beauty but not a place to linger.
The trip back from Bled to Ljubljana brought us one of our most enjoyable experiences of the trip. Having faith in the GPS, we ventured into the unknown and found a small rural restaurant. In fact, we unknowingly discovered a Gostilna Slovenija, a small Slovenian inn recognized for its traditional cuisine. (If interested in these inns, see also http://www.gostilnaslovenija.si/ ) Gostilna Mlin has a 4 foot local river channel between the inn and terrace. After ordering the trout recommended by our likeable waitress, we watched with enthusiasm when a man strolled 10 feet to catch our dinner with a net.
We arrived in Ljubljana in time for our host, Stane, to walk us to his 15th century home a few steps away from the Town Hall before heading out for a late afternoon walk of the city. Ljubljana takes many measures to preserve the historical integrity of its buildings and streets and its city center is pedestrian only. In 2016, Ljubljana was recognized as the European Green Capital. All of this combined with outdoor lights, music wafting down streets and friendly locals creates a magical medieval haven. Some highlights for us besides the pure pleasure of strolling the cobblestone streets lined with cafes included the beautiful interior of the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church and a delicious menu-of-the-day lunch at Druga Violina which supports special needs adults by providing employment.
Fortunately, when planning this trip, we had the foresight to build in a couple of days of downtime at the end. With our longest day of driving (5 hours), we returned west to Lake Iseo in Italy. All we really needed here were a market to buy fish, pasta and Prosecco and a few lounge chairs. Residence Ca’laRipa built in 1791 and warmly hosted by Andrea provided the perfect spot for relaxing with its spacious rooms and patio overlooking the lake. We did venture one day to see the small town of Lovere. But, most of the time we were happily relaxing on our patio with the mystical lake views, trying to remember all of the delightful experiences of the past days.